With figures hinting at a decline in participation, community projects and a new three-on-three format are driving a comeback for basketball in the UK.
Grassroots sport has suffered greatly during the pandemic, but basketball has seen a drop of more than 60,000 participants since 2016, according to the annual Active Lives Survey carried out by Sport England.
Data from 2020 showed that sports such as netball and cricket also dropped below 300,000 participants, but the four-year trend may have alarm bells ringing in the basketball community.
The survey did show some promise among the younger generations, with the sport proving more popular in 2020 than hockey, cricket and rugby for those in school years seven to 11.
A condensed version of the game (3×3) will make its debut at the Olympics and Commonwealth Games in the next two years, and basketball may be set for its comeback with that young audience in the driver’s seat.
3×3 basketball consultant and founder of the GG3x3 non-profit Martin Dyan expressed his shock at the reported decline in participation and attested to the strength of the British basketball community.
He said: “I’m quite surprised to hear there are any figures showing that there’s a decrease in participation.
“In my mind, especially in the run up to the summer and the Olympics, participation will increase a huge amount, I’ve no doubt.
“It’s being played more and more in schools, there are national leagues and there’s the pro game too. The professional basketball league, the BBL, is certainly growing in levels of engagement and its playoffs were shown on Sky Sports this year.
“We have a long way to go but there is a real infrastructure and engagement in the community and there will be much more of a focus with 3×3 basketball and the Commonwealth Games.”
As one of the pioneers of 3×3 basketball in the UK, Dyan was eager to develop the grassroots community and established the GG3x3 platform in the memory of his friend George Goldstone.
Starting as a one-off tournament, GG3x3 is now the UK’s largest non-profit basketball platform and Dyan is determined to make the sport and its community accessible to everyone.
“The community is incredibly diverse. That is one of the most exciting things about it,” Dyan continued.
“It’s diverse but there’s an incredible unity within the basketball community. You can go to any basketball court across London, across the country, and everyone is friendly, competitive and willing to share the positivity of being on a basketball court.
“We were lucky enough to have secured some Sport England funding for something called the Tackling Inequalities Fund that was supported by Basketball England because they saw how basketball could help get people active, specifically targeting youth from underprivileged backgrounds and those with learning difficulties.
“We’re now running something called the Ball4Life Community Project which is a cross-borough project in three community groups in Westminster, Camden and Enfield. We’ve brought them all together and brought coaches together to get people really active.
“There’s a lot of discussion about people feeling more socially anxious coming out of the pandemic and sport in general, particularly basketball, gives people the opportunity to recover from that in an amazingly positive way.
“You will always have laughter on court, there are always smiles. Basketball teaches you leadership, discipline, teamwork. It helps you be part of a community and creates a sense of unity with your teammates and opposition.
“From a physical perspective, 3×3 is a very quick fast-paced version of the game so it tests speed, decision making, jumping ability, so you’re really using all elements of your body to play the game.
“It’s an opportunity for the highest level to think about providing more funding and opportunity, but also the grassroots to really help local communities that need it most and basketball can be that medium.
“There are certain kids who may not have even attended the community centre nearby, but because we’ve put on this free basketball programme they’ve come, they’ve engaged and they’ve had fun.”
British basketball has a promising infrastructure and its governing body are keen to take advantage of those resources with their #ProjectSwish campaign, giving out free basketball nets and renovating courts across the country.
With anyone able to request a net and access guidance on improving their local courts, Dyan believes that the initiative is activating a large but untapped player base.
He said: “Project Swish is a brilliant campaign by Basketball England.
“It’s fantastic because not only does it champion grassroots basketball by supporting refurbishment of basketball courts, but by providing nets, cable ties and stickers they are literally putting the power in the people’s hands.
“I don’t know of another sport or governing body that has done that. They distributed almost 5,000 nets to go up around the UK and people really underestimate the power of having that net on the hoop.”
Facing the reported drop in UK participation, Dyan argued that the rise of 3×3 basketball couldn’t be coming at a better time for the sport.
With grassroots players escaping the pandemic and the sport’s new format given a surge of visibility from the Tokyo Olympics and the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, basketball appears ready to fight for the spotlight.
“I’d like to think that 3×3 basketball will be the driving force behind further engagement in the game across the UK and an interest in either playing or watching it,” Dyan concluded.
“I foresee it driving further investment from both government, businesses and individuals. It’s a very new but very exciting and accessible form of basketball and sport in general.
“From a grassroots and local education perspective it will make a great impact but also there’s a pathway to becoming a pro athlete through the game. Becoming a professional in the game of basketball as a player, coach or just someone who advocates the game grants the opportunity for anyone to get engaged.”
Featured images: GG3x3, Ball4Life Community Project